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Back to the future – rethinking new development

In an article for Summix’s spotlight on the Future of Work, Greg Mitchell, Executive Planning Director, Summix, explores why we should go ‘back to the future’ to rethink new development.

He outlines how revisiting the pioneering New Town and Garden Settlement movements can bring about exciting opportunities for communities which respond to the climate, carbon, biodiversity and energy crises.

Seventy years have passed since the first residents settled onto the Monkswood and Broom Barns Estates in Stevenage in the early 1950s. They were pioneers in the UK's New Town movement, a post-war social engineering project that transformed the lives of thousands.

This movement arguably brought about the most significant change in our interaction with the built environment for generations, until Covid came along.

The pandemic led to a shift towards remote, home, and flexible work. People came to recognise the benefits and resisted the environmental, quality of life, and cost-of-living challenges associated with returning to their usual office setting.

Three years on from the lockdowns, I believe Covid’s long-term effects will have a similarly profound impact on where and when we work, as well as how we engage with the built environment.

Our Future of Work report aimed to explore these evolving work habits in relation to pre- and post-Covid homeworking; delving into how planners, developers, and the wider built environment industry should respond.

According to the findings, nearly a third of all UK workers now predominantly work from home. It also predicts the sector should anticipate 40% levels of remote working in the long term.

The report also identified a rise in "tribrid" working, where professionals split their time between home, the office, and flexible workspaces, effectively creating "hidden business parks" in residential areas nationwide.

While certain areas within the built environment - such as office space - have suffered negative impacts from these trends, there remains a tremendous opportunity for those involved in planning new settlements or urban regeneration.

To stay abreast of these changes, the private and public sectors must adopt an evidence-based approach to inform and shape future development designs.

The built environment sector is well-positioned to harness the benefits arising from shifting work patterns by adopting a more thoughtful approach to community-focused placemaking.

Addressing how and where we work and live is crucial for effectively planning new developments. It is crucial that we build appropriate homes in suitable locations that also provide the necessary connectivity and amenities to meet people's needs, whilst also enhancing sustainability.

This could involve repurposing vacant office spaces to create co-working areas, housing, and amenities. Alternatively, it may require a human-centric approach to designing new homes and developments – with dedicated home offices and co-working facilities, to accommodate this future of work.

Factors such as environmental protection, robust public transportation links, and ample education and healthcare facilities must also be taken into consideration.

We hope that businesses, policymakers, the development industry, and the wider public found our report findings useful in reimagining how we shape and design new developments.

By doing so, we can seize upon the environmental, social, and economic opportunities presented by the changes in work patterns over recent years.

This approach - when implemented on a large scale - has the potential to serve as a catalyst for the UK economy, while promoting higher levels of sustainability.

As the New Towns emerged in response to the devastation of the Second World War, all of this raises the question: does the UK need an equally ambitious vision for placemaking in response to the ongoing post-pandemic housing crisis?

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